From Tua Tagovailoa to Xavien Howard, big decisions await new Dolphins coach

MIAMI -- After firing Brian Flores on Monday, the Miami Dolphins are one of eight teams in the market for a new head coach this offseason.

Under owner Stephen Ross, the Dolphins have employed four head coaches, none of whom had held that position before. When asked about his hiring plans, Ross shot down the notion that he wants to hire current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh but was noncommittal about whether he prefers an experienced head coach or another upstart assistant.

"You know, certainly having the experience always helps," Ross said. "But if we find somebody that's exceptional, that's been a coordinator or some other position in football, I strongly will look at that very seriously. Our mind is open."

No matter who stalks the sideline for the Dolphins next season, there are several big moves that need to be made between now and September.

Decide on Xavien Howard, Emmanuel Ogbah, Mike Gesicki

Howard, a cornerback with a combined 15 interceptions over the past two seasons, is the Dolphins' best player and there's not much argument against it. He requested a trade last offseason before the team reworked his contract to give him more money in 2021, but if he's not satisfied with his contract it's in Miami's best interest to work things out with him again.

Asked before the season finale how he feels about his future with the organization, Howard said: "Until somebody says something, I'm a Miami Dolphin."

Byron Jones will have the third-highest base salary ($14.4 million) of any cornerback in the NFL next season according to Spotrac and gives Miami a good starter to anchor the secondary if it can't keep Howard, but the team's new coach must decide just how important Howard, a three-time Pro Bowler, is to his defensive scheme.

The same logic goes for Ogbah, a defensive end who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and has 18 sacks in two seasons with the Dolphins. Spotrac estimates his market value at $10 million a year, which the Dolphins can easily afford with roughly $70 million in salary-cap space.

Gesicki, a tight end, seems like a no-brainer to keep as the second best pass-catching option on an offense starving for playmakers behind rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle (104 catches). Gesicki's production slowed a bit down the stretch, but he still recorded career highs in receptions (73), targets (112) and receiving yards (780) in 2021.

Miami could also turn to Durham Smythe, who is an unrestricted free agent and would come at a much lower price point, or see what it has in 2021 third-round pick Hunter Long. But Gesicki is the best option of the three and pass-catchers are at a premium on this roster.

Figure out an offensive identity

It begins with putting together an offensive staff. This was Flores' Achilles' heel during his three-year tenure as he had four offensive coordinators, four offensive line coaches and three quarterback coaches. The coaching turnover contributed to offense ranked 27th overall ('19), 22nd ('20) and 25th ('21), respectively.

If Ross and general manager Chris Grier hire an offensive-minded head coach, that task gets a little easier. If they opt for someone with a defensive background, that coach must hire someone experienced as an offensive coordinator. Miami's defense, which ranked 15th overall after dominating down the stretch, is playoff-caliber. The other side of the ball needs to catch up while the window is open.

From there, Miami's new coach must work with Grier to add an influx of talent on offense.

Build around QB Tua Tagovailoa or move on

Ross insisted that Tagovailoa "played no role" in his decision to fire Flores, but made an interesting comment when asked what he expects from Miami's next coach.

"I have a lot of confidence in Tua and I think you know, the next head coach will work with him or whoever else," Ross said. "But I have a lot of confidence in [Tagovailoa]. I watched him grow. I think he's a fine young man and he is right now the quarterback and that will be dependent upon the new head coach."

Right now.

Seems like a hollow endorsement for the former No. 5 overall pick. Tagovailoa's 2021 season was inconsistent -- he was 7-5 as a starter with 16 TD passes and 10 interceptions -- and marred by injuries, but he flashed enough to warrant another year of evaluation. The Dolphins' new coach must figure out if Tagovailoa fits into his future plans.